April 20 is coming up and it’s more than just a stoner celebration for some. If you have friends or family in Littleton, Colo., then you know that 4/20 of this year marks the eighth anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings, the single deadliest gun rampage to occur during a generation rife with violent outbursts at public schools.
April 20 is coming up and it’s more than just a stoner celebration for some. If you have friends or family in Littleton, Colo., then you know that 4/20 of this year marks the eighth anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings, the single deadliest gun rampage to occur during a generation rife with violent outbursts at public schools.The shooting has given rise to some incredible films in the world of independent film production, most notably Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine and local director Gus Van Sant’s film Elephant, a fictionalized retelling of the Columbine massacre. These films have been praised as cautionary tales, films that have explored the roots of the attack and forced audiences to really consider what drives a pair of high school students to murder their peers in cold blood.The massacre has also spawned a freeware video game available for online download, called “Super Columbine Massacre RPG!” Danny Ledonne, creator of the game, claims that it was designed for the same purposes as the films Columbine has inspired. He contends that Massacre is not meant to make a silly, fun game out of the tragedy, but rather to offer players a look into the mindsets of shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Ledonne, whose online alias is “Columbin,” grew up in Alamosa, a small Colorado town similar to Littleton. Ledonne has said that he spent his youth being bullied and ostracized, much like Harris and Klebold, and that his game was a better outlet than actually shooting up his peers.Ledonne himself has admitted that the game may be ahead of its time and that there is the chance society won’t ever be ready to sympathize with mass murderers. The Slamdance Film Festival holds an annual award for indie game developers, and has taken place in Utah for the past 13 years. It is held at the same time as Sundance, and Slamdance enthusiasts claim that it has even more indie spirit than the former, the latter being an event whose enthusiasts feel Sundance has become too mainstream. Slamdance has a rich history of displaying anything and everything that gets submitted, so long as it has a valid point to it. Super Columbine Massacre RPG! is the first project that the festival has ever pulled from the competition.Peter Baxter, president and co-founder of Slamdance, announced that he was removing the game from the competition just days before the festival, by which time the game had already been selected as a finalist. This led to a lot of Slamdance supporters questioning the festival’s integrity and the validity of the idea behind Slamdance’s interest in pushing film and gaming boundaries to the limit by bringing controversy to the main stage. Baxter claimed that the primary reason for rescinding the game was a concern with copyright laws, given that the game uses clips of Marilyn Manson’s music, among other copyright-protected artists. Ledonne claims that this argument isn’t valid since he could have reprogrammed the game in time for the festival, had he been contacted beforehand.Pulling the game cost Slamdance their sponsorship provided by the University of Southern California’s Interactive Media Division, and seven of the 14 finalists pulled their games in protest. There was also dissent among the Slamdance film and game jurors who, at the end of the competition, voted to grant Ledonne the “special jury prize” for best documentary, an unofficial award that nonetheless asserted the Slamdance community’s faith in the core values of the festival.The game and the controversy surrounding it are unavoidable, given the subject matter. Columbine happened for a multitude of reasons, and this game gives players a chance to explore why and how the massacre took place. Yes, Massacre lacks tact and compassion and yes, tragedy should never be taken lightly, but the controversy of the game, like so many times before, begins to fall off once you’ve actually played it. The game itself is nothing to brag about. The graphics are tantamount to the old RPGs of the early Super Nintendo days. One major backlash to this has been the cutesiness of the graphics that still retain a sense of realism, though by no stretch of the imagination is the game particularly graphic or gory. The game also occasionally uses video clips and photographs of the Columbine aftermath taken from the press. Much of the dialogue is taken from actual security and media records; journals kept by the shooters provide most of the narrative, and these journals, alongside real-world photos and maps of the area, were used by Ledonne to create a factual setting for the game. Players can choose to walk the halls and grounds, which meticulously replicate those of the actual school, and continually kill the characters who take their likenesses and names from actual Columbine students that were enrolled during the massacre. A few family members of the Columbine victims have said that, although they appreciate the point that Ledonne is trying to make, the horror of knowing that anyone with an internet connection can repeatedly shoot their loved ones trumps any valid reason to play the game. The controversy in which Massacre is steeped begs the question of whether or not it is a horrible travesty and insult to the memory of Harris and Klebold’s victims, or if the game is a legitimate way to connect to events of Columbine in a manner yet unexplored. Ledonne has come under fire for the way the game sympathizes with the shooters and how it satirically approaches the idea that heavy-metal music, dark clothing and violent video games–such a Manson CD, a black trench coat and a copy of the Doom video game-are to blame for the massacre and can be used to boost character attributes and increase their ability to kill students.Ultimately, the game’s thinly veiled cuirass of being an RPG falls off, particularly if the player is a true fan of role playing games. There are hit points, equipment upgrades, mini-puzzles and the option to save at all times, though the traditional RPG elements don’t change the fact that the controls are extremely bland. The game itself is five hours long if you’re a newcomer to RPGs and much shorter if you know what you’re doing, and the gameplay will likely not entertain you for the duration. The only motivation to keep playing is the curiosity of what it was like to be involved in that shooting.This seems to prove the point that Ledonne claims about the curiosity of the public: if you weren’t there, you at least want to know what it would have been like. And that, Ledonne says, is a major part of why this game was made. The game does provide some logic behind the massacre and even points out the many avenues by which it could have been avoided. It does feel like Ledonne’s point could have been made in a more sensitive manner, though perhaps the brutality is key in exposing what life is like for a pair of young social pariahs, especially when such outcast youths have frighteningly simple and vast access to bomb-making materials and assault rifles.The game can still be downloaded through various online sources, though the bandwidth costs have forced Ledonne to use mirror websites and sharing-programs to keep it available. Your best bet is to just use a search engine and type in “Super Columbine Massacre” and see for yourself what the game is like, making up your own mind about how this game reflects upon society.